A 1973 Book That’s Perfect For Harry Potter Fans!




NOVEL: The House with a Clock in its Walls

AUTHOR: John Bellairs



I loved this book when I was a kid. I’m not sure exactly how I came to own a copy—I believe it was a birthday or Christmas gift.  (I always was a voracious reader, and my relatives knew it.) My paperback copy had a black cover with a spooky black silhouette of the titular house, which was haunted by a large and ghastly green face. Inside there were delightful illustrations by Edward Gorey (I didn’t know who he was at the time, but his style is impossible to miss—I definitely knew it was the same person who had done The Shrinking of Treehorn): creepy, somewhat thrilling, and appealingly odd. And the story was great. I’d now call it a gothic fantasy young adult novel (if I had to categorize it), but back then it was simply a terrific book, one I read repeatedly.


I’d rather forgotten all about it, until fairly recently when I was trying to pick out a gift for a friend’s son who was turning ten, when I realized that The House with a Clock in its Walls would be just the thing.

Confession time: I not only bought him a copy, but I bought myself one, too. It was one of the better impulse purchases I’ve made lately. Buying a paperback (or a Kindle edition) doesn’t cost much more than a fancy drink at Starbucks.


Let’s just say that if you like Harry Potter, you will like this one. Lewis Barnavelt, age ten, has recently lost his parents and is sent to live with his mysterious Uncle Jonathan, who lives in an old mansion full of secret passageways, stained glass windows (which sometimes change their designs), old dusty books, dozens of clanging clocks, and fireplaces in all of the rooms. And Uncle Jonathan and his best friend and next-door neighbor, Mrs. Zimmerman, have some talent with magic: in fact, he’s a wizard (although not a very accomplished one), and she’s a witch (a rather powerful one). Fortunately, they both use their talents for good; unfortunately, the former owner of the house was a wizard of an evil sort, and his evil has outlived him. Lewis has to contend both with being a new boy at school (overweight, and miserable at baseball) and involvement in a supernatural battle with ghosts to try and prevent them from bringing about Doomsday.


If you have a ten-year-old in your life, do him or her a favor, and introduce him to Lewis, Uncle Jonathan, and Mrs. Zimmerman. And if you don’t, make this one your next impulse purchase, anyway.


(I’ve just learned that there’s a film in the works, including Cate Blanchett as Mrs. Zimmerman and Jack Black as Uncle Jonathan. Color me intrigued.)


RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 3 1/2 Whistles




Lead-In Image (Edward Gorey Illustrations) Courtesy of Penguin Random House


Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com



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